Our Journey in 2019 & 2020
Rural communities in Kenya have been denied the legal right to manage their land and resources for generations. They live with a constant and growing risk of their land being grabbed by companies or the government. The loss of communal lands deprives some of the country’s most vulnerable citizens – especially women, ethnic minorities, and Indigenous people — of the source of their livelihoods, culture, and identity.
In late 2016, under pressure from land rights activists and organizations (including Namati), the Government of Kenya passed the Community Land Act, a progressive and historic law that enables communities to secure legal title to their lands. Namati’s Community Land Protection program supports ordinary citizens to understand the Act, use it to legally protect their community land, and to advocate for changes to the law and its implementation if it is not working as intended.
In 2019, Namati and our partners supported 11 communities — representing at least 28,000 people and 150,000 hectares of land — to fulfill the requirements of the Act and submit their registration applications to the Kenyan Government.
Each of the communities adopted detailed bylaws to guide local land management and governance and establish how they will deal with investors and other outsiders who want to acquire their land.
Many of the rules they created include rights protections for women, youth, and other marginalized people — often for the first time. The communities also elected committees to manage the routine affairs of the communities’ land and natural resources. In the past, this was strictly the purview of male elders. Now, the committees include women and youth, ensuring that all people have a voice in decision-making.
By mid-2019, the 11 communities were ready to submit their applications to the county land registrars, as stipulated under the law. But there was a problem: despite three years having passed since the law’s passage, the government had yet to put the necessary staff in place.
To put pressure on the government to respect the law and their rights, over 60 representatives from the communities travelled to Nairobi and marched to the Ministry of Lands. They called on the government to accept and process their applications in a timely manner and further, to deploy appropriate personnel to each of Kenya’s counties.
Several weeks after this July march, the government set up a working group tasked with supporting the widespread implementation of the law. Despite this progress, the government did not live up to its commitment to process the 11 communities’ applications. In response, a small group of representatives travelled back to Nairobi in October and once again marched to the Ministry to follow up on their applications. The march was covered on national TV.
Finally, in late 2020 — more than a year after the applications were submitted — one of the eleven communities received their title deed. It was only the second community in Kenya to have secured this legal recognition, and the first to do so using a legal empowerment approach.
While the COVID-19 pandemic prevented paralegals from working with new communities in 2020, Namati and our existing community partners continued to push for the processing of applications and work to address systemic barriers that prevent the law from being implemented at scale. We wrote blogs, published op-eds, and, as a follow up to the demands the community representatives made at the Ministry of Lands, circulated a petition, signed by over 300 civil society activists, calling for the immediate deployment of requisite personnel. The government responded, sending land registrars and other staff to the 24 counties in Kenya that have significant amounts of community land. For the first time, registration at the local-level became possible.
In addition to our ongoing advocacy efforts, Namati devoted much of 2020 to developing and publishing resources to support communities, civil society organizations, and the Kenyan government to carry out their roles and responsibilities under the Community Land Act. Our Facilitator’s Guide was officially endorsed by the country’s Ministry of Lands.
Our Plans for 2021
In 2021, we are supporting our partners to begin to scale-up their work: each partner has begun working with 7-10 new communities to meet the requirements of the law. Although these efforts look somewhat different due to COVID-19 precautions, we are confident that with creativity and flexibility we will achieve similar results.
In the coming months, we will also begin a new pilot program in close collaboration with a county government. Together, we will carry out a major public awareness campaign on the law and deploy paralegals to respond to community requests for support in fulfilling the registration requirements. The goal is to develop and test a legal empowerment approach that could be easily adopted by local governments and implemented at scale.
Throughout the year, our coalition will be drawing on our grassroots experience to seek systemic solutions to two key challenges: 1) ensuring that the process of developing community governance structures is inclusive and equitable everywhere — even when our paralegals are not present, and 2) ensuring that communities can define their own land claims, and are not pre-empted or confined by a technocratic, state-driven demarcation process.
Our Grassroots Impact at a Glance
In 2019, paralegals supported 11 rural communities to strengthen land governance and apply for the legal title to their land. In 2020, one of the communities’ titles was granted. Efforts continue to secure the remaining ten.
The Road to Securing Land Rights in Kenya
Filmed in late 2019, this short film shows the legal empowerment journey of two individuals, Matito Leruso and Isaiah Lesurunka, who worked with their communities to secure their long-overdue rights to their land.
Writing to Grow the Movement
We aim to communicate the urgent need for land and environmental justice in Kenya to policymakers and people in the country and across the globe. In 2019 and 2020, we published a half dozen op-eds to this end.
In the Press
A Historic Step Towards Securing Community Land Rights in Kenya
In the Press
Delays in appointing registrars undermine community land rights
Sharing What We Learned
In 2019, the Community Land Protection team produced a report on process impacts and lessons learned in three countries. In 2020 the team produced guides to support the wide-scale implementation of the Community Land Act.
Facilitator Guide: Kenyan Community Land Act
Implementation of the Community Land Act: A Guide for County Executive Committee Members
Don’t Miss Your Chance: Evidence-Based Messages for Discussing the Community Land Act
The Challenge of Protecting Community Land Rights: An Investigation into Community Responses to Requests for Land and Resources